Vietnam and China
Hot oil on troubled waters
A South China Sea stand-off has domestic repercussions for Vietnam
But the calculus changed abruptly when China National Offshore Oil Corporation towed a $1 billion oil rig into waters just 120 nautical miles (220 kilometres) off central Vietnam’s coast. China announced that the hulking structure would stay put until the middle of August. To make that perfectly clear, it sent a flotilla of ships, which Vietnam says included armed vessels. This is all taking place not far from the Paracel islands, which China seized from the American-backed South Vietnamese regime in 1974.
Vietnam is indignant. On May 11th, at a meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Myanmar, the prime minister, Nguyen Tan Dung, vowed to protect his country’s sovereignty. He called for solidarity, but perhaps got less than he hoped for (see Banyan). Vietnam has a modest navy and little hope of sending the oil rig packing, let alone retaking the Paracels. Though the American secretary of state, John Kerry, deplored China’s move as “provocative”, the United States will not come to Vietnam’s aid against the bullying.
Also on May 11th an unusually large demonstration against China took place in Hanoi; similar demonstrations happened in other big cities. Like China, Vietnam is an authoritarian country. Such demonstrations typically end swiftly, with police and security forces rounding up activists whom they distrust—protest leaders and local journalists. Elements of the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam fret that anti-China sentiment—and a perception that Vietnam is weak against its northern neighbour—could unite groups with domestic bones to pick with the government over corruption, land-grabbing and restrictions on free expression.
Yet the rally in Hanoi, which hundreds attended, had the air of a festival, if a somewhat agitated one. It lasted for hours. Reporters from the state-controlled media, normally barred from reporting on such things, were allowed to attend. Some flag-draped patriots appeared to be on the government’s payroll; others, such as a political blogger, Nguyen Huu Vinh, temporarily put their domestic grievances on hold in the name of national unity.
Popular anti-China sentiment will be a delicate issue for the Vietnamese government. A diplomat in Hanoi says that the government’s approach will be to keep things “hot but not boiling”: using popular anger as a useful way for people to let off steam while not allowing their feelings to get out of hand.
Yet domestic anger may prove hotter than the government is hoping for. On May 14th as many as 20,000 workers protested against China by setting fire to 15 factories in industrial parks outside Ho Chi Minh City, the country’s business hub. Chinese companies seem to have been the target, but Taiwanese and South Korean factories also found themselves caught up in the arson. As The Economist went to press, reports were emerging of injuries and at least one death at a Taiwanese steel plant in central Vietnam.
Vietnam’s Communist Party built its legitimacy on robust economic growth, and it fears alienating foreign investors. It is unclear how far continuing unrest will harm the economy or affect back-channels with the Chinese government (Vietnam’s urgent request that China agree to receive a top-ranking envoy in Beijing over the oil rig appears to have been rebuffed). But a drawn-out dispute will not help political factions allied to the president, Truong Tan Sang, or to the party secretary-general, Nguyen Phu Trong, both reckoned to be generally pro-China. If anything, the row may be strengthening the hands of party reformers who chafe at the China-friendly status quo.
這篇以「爭議海域上的熱油」（Hot Oil on Troubled waters）為題的報導指出，大陸和越南的關係年初還持續改善，經貿投資續增，雙方甚至討論在南海共同開發石油蘊藏，但在大陸5月初於南海架設巨型鑽油平台後，引發越南民眾反陸情緒。
經濟學人指出，越南共產黨靠強勁的經濟成長建立它的合法性，擔心疏遠外國投資人，這次暴動對經濟的衝擊及與大陸政府溝通管理的影響，目前仍不明朗，如果大 陸與越南的爭議繼續下去，不利越南國家主席張晉創（Truong Tan Sang）或越共中央總書記阮富仲（Nguyen Phu Trong）的政治派系，他們2人的政治立場都屬於支持大陸。